I am supposed to be working today. But then, you know, baby colds are no respecter of persons, or work days. Since Henry has given up sleep in favour of dribbling and crossness, I have embraced not showering and The Count of Monte Cristo. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.
So let’s talk about books, shall we? Last week we went to the library and something odd happened: I didn’t want to read a thing in there. I know, it felt like I suddenly didn’t like gravy or Colin Firth. What I wanted was non-fiction. No elaborations. No flights of fancy. No cheffing vampires.
In case you’re also feeling anti-vampire, here are the non-fiction books I love best on my shelves – or, in other words, here’s what I’ve previously got from the bookshop, and why:
1. Diana Athill: Somewhere Towards the End
A memoir about the advantages and indignities of ageing might not seem like a snappy read, but this little book is wonderful: clever, clear-sighted and funny. This is what I’m aiming for at eighty, and if I get anywhere near it, I’ll be pleased.
2. Nigel Slater: Toast
Part autobiography, part love letter to food, discovery and childhood memory. Don’t read it when you’re hungry. He writes so vividly I had to close my eyes to taste it better. Warning: this is also a very frank story of a boy in the dreadful extremities of puberty. Which may put you off.
3. Rick Gekoski: Tolkien’s Gown
Gekoski is a rare book dealer, and has enough stories about his dealings with authors and their first editions that you’d pay him to sit next to you at dinner. There are chapters on his entanglements with The Picture of Dorian Gray, Animal Farm, Peter Rabbit, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and, of course, The Hobbit. An absolute delight for a bibliophile.
4. Alison Weir: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Oh, joy. I’m a tiny bit obsessed with this book. Detailed and fascinating and vividly coloured. (All the others in her Tudor series are good, but this is my favourite.)
5. Vera Brittain: Testament of Youth
The story of the First World War and its aftermath, from the lost generation who lived it. Highly personal and affecting. And long (but it’s worth spending the time).
6. Bill Bryson: The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid
Any old Bryson will pick you up from the floor if you need it, but this is my favourite. I made the mistake of reading it for the first time on an aeroplane, and laughed so loudly and so often that Tim threatened to throw me out of the window.
7. Kate Fox: Watching the English
I’ve extolled this before, but suffice to say I now know all sorts about my instinct for queueing, apologising and saying goodbye a dozen times – and the chapters about class indicators were fascinating.
And now that Henry’s snoring precariously on my lap and work is still off the agenda, the only question is which one to re-read first…
Any non-fiction recommendations you love? Tell me!